Release Date: July 12, 2016Platform: PS4 (reviewed), XBO, PCDeveloper: FireForge GamesPublisher: ActivisionGenre: Action-adventure
It sometimes feels like there is no cure for nostalgia. Although most people are aware that the “good old days” were never quite as good as they remember, it’s still far too easy to latch on to our romanticized notions of the way things were and use them as an unfair measuring stick for the modern world.
If ever you should feel that you have succumbed to the perils of retro gaming nostalgia, I do have a bitter pill to prescribe you which just might help the pain to go away. It’s Activision’s Ghostbusters 2016, and it is an uncompromising throwback to the days in which licensed video games were by and large cheap cash grabs devoid of any real merit.
On the outset, Ghostbusters 2016 (hereafter referred to as Ghostbusters with all due apologies to the source material that this game will now be associated with) doesn’t seem like that bad of a proposition. It follows the design formula of recently successful licensed games by basically copying the design of already established games. In this case, Ghostbusters combines the twin-stick shooter action of games like Helldivers with the action-RPG elements of titles such as Diablo III. Toss a four player co-op option into that mix, and you’ve got a recipe that could yield a very respectable Ghostbusters game.
Actually, for about three minutes, that’s what Ghostbusters is. Rather than basing the game’s visual design off of the new movie, developer FireForge Games (who don’t seem to exist on the internet outside of their involvement with this project) decided to come up with their own cartoony style that closely resembles The Real Ghostbusters cartoon series. When coupled with the use of the classic Ghostbusters theme song, the visuals displayed in the game’s menus, loading screens. and cinematics actually do a decent job of presenting this world in a semi-amusing way.
It’s a shame the same can’t be said of the voice acting and writing. I appreciate that you must grant a little leeway to a mass-appeal cartoony Ghostbusters game in terms of dialogue and voice acting quality, but that’s simply no excuse for the painful dialogue sequences that you are forced to endure here. It’s almost like the writing in this game came from a particularly dim eight-year-old writing to another particularly dim eight-year-old who doesn’t have the heart to tell his friend that his writing is awful even though the friend already secretly knows it.
Or, perhaps more accurately, it’s like the developers were challenged to make a Ghostbusters game as quickly as possible and turned the production of a full script into some elaborate speed run bonus pay contest. You would imagine that they would have had more time to spend on the gameplay as a result of their clear disinterest in providing a digestible story, but your first few minutes actually playing the game make it clear that isn’t the case.
The basic problem with Ghostbuster’s gameplay is that it’s built around an incredibly monotonous combat system. Each of the game’s four characters are equipped with unique weapons and skills that, ideally, grant them their own gameplay identity, but in reality, your choice between them is meaningless. Each one plays about the same as the other, and they’re all poorly designed characters whose primary weapons barely feel like they’re actually doing damage, but you are still required to hold down the fire button until your ghostly foes vanish. It’s a wholly unsatisfying system that’s only real purpose in life is to illustrate the difference between a bad game and a good game in this genre.
Ideally, this combat would be broken up by mechanics such as boss fights and character leveling, but both of those aspects are riddled with flaws. Not only does character building suffer from poor attribute choices (why would I add to my character’s speed and damage when neither seems to have a meaningful effect on the action?), but it also suffers from a curious design decision that prevents any character not being controlled by another player from retaining their skills across levels. Should you actually decide to play the game long enough to see the last levels, you’ll find that the game’s biggest joy comes from watching your weak teammates drop dead almost instantly.
This can be fixed by actually playing with friends, but I doubt that you’ll be able to find anyone willing to continue playing beyond a single, resentment-filled level. As for the boss fights, they are ruined by both the inherently awful combat and a proton pack mechanic that requires you to trap the boss before you finish it via a series of repetitive quick time events that are almost impossible to fail and offer no relief from the monotony.
And that’s it. That’s the whole game. You watch some bad cutscenes, pick a new level, engage in repetitive combat, curse at the fact your weapon overheats so easily, and end the whole thing with a boring boss fight. Had Ghostbusters been a $10 downloadable game with some tighter combat and a few more tricks up its gameplay sleeve, you could almost justify advising a hardcore fan to wait until it’s on sale for 80% off.
The fact that Ghostbusters exists in its current state and costs $50 is just insulting enough to invoke those fond memories of wasting a weekend by renting a game based off of your favorite movie and finding that your passions had been exploited for a cheap buck.
Matt Byrd is a staff writer.